The timing of Mike Poulton`s moving, sharply funny and skilfully constructed new play: KENNY MORGAN couldn`t be better. It opens just weeks before a revival of Terence Rattigan`s masterpiece THE DEEP BLUE SEA at The National Theatre. Poulton`s play carefully tells of the real-life events that ended up with his lover gassing himself in a run-down lodging house in Camden Town. When Rattigan was told of his lover`s suicide, he didn`t speak for twenty minutes, he was so frozen with grief and then said: I have the plot of my next play. It will open with a body lying in front of a gas fire` This was to be THE DEEP BLUE SEA but it couldn`t be about a gay relationship, and the name and the sex of the character had to be changed.
KENNY MORGAN is set in 1949, when homosexuality was still a crime, as was attempted suicide. Anti-semitism was rife, despite the horrors that were inflicted on the Jews in Nazi Germany. Lucy Bailey`s pitch perfect production with Robert Innes Hopkins set of seedy decadence moodily lit by Jack Knowles with rumbles of trains and distant traffic from Neil Mc. Keown`s soundscape, captures every nuance and mood change of this excellent play.
But then Bailey`s seven-strong cast inhabit their roles in a way rarely seen today. George Irving`s Austrian Jewish doctor is quite mesmeric. With just a single look and movement, he conveys all the anguish of those years of suffering. Simon Dutton struts on the stage looking every inch the lauded playwright in his pin-striped Savile Row suit. But for all his swagger, Dutton shows so much of the vulnerability and innate kindness of the man. As the egocentric bisexual young lover of Kenny, Pierro Niel-Mee repels you and fascinates you at the same time. But Paul Keating`s Kenny keeps the emotional thrust of the play going throughout. His performance is never self-pitying or indulgent. Here is a young man of 29 who feels his life is over. There are so many younger prettier boys around, ready to take his place. Rattigan is prepared to resume their relationship, but only in private, they must never be public about their love. Somehow Kenny can`t accept this and the end is tragic.
This is a play that could be produced and translated world-wide. The structure is flawless and the themes universal.
Playing until June 18. www.arcolatheatre.com
Review by Stewart Permutt